“But you’re not feeling any insane urges to grab me and carry me off to the Erlking right now, right?”
One side of his mouth quirked up in a grin, though I didn’t think his expression would ever be quite as boyish as it had once been. “Nope. You’re mine, and I’m not sharing.”
Those words made me squirm, though they also brought a pleased blush to my cheeks. I would never really be his, not as long as my bargain with the Erlking lasted. I didn’t see any reason why the Erlking’s decision to hunt me would free me from our bargain.
I shouldn’t even have been thinking about that under the circumstances, but I couldn’t help it. Ethan was looking at me with a familiar hunger in his eyes, though I had to look about as appealing as moldy cheese and didn’t smell much better. Of course, Ethan was looking kind of rough himself, his hair all tangled, his clothes filthy, and that livid burn on his face constantly reminding me of the pain he must be in. My shoulder hurt like hell, but his mark had been bigger, so his burn was, too. I couldn’t imagine what it must feel like, and yet it didn’t stop him from looking at me like he wanted to get me into bed.
Knowing that Kimber and Keane would tell me I was being stupid if they were here, I scooted over until I was sitting right beside Ethan, then laid my head on his shoulder. The warmth of his body was comforting, but I desperately longed for the feel of his arms around me. I was severely tempted to untie his hands, but it was a temptation I managed to resist.
“Reach into my right front pocket,” he whispered.
I glanced up at his face and saw that he was serious, and that it wasn’t an attempt at flirtation. I frowned at him, having no idea why he wanted me to put my hand in his pocket. I hated having to be so suspicious of him, but it would be stupid of me not to think things through when I couldn’t be sure if the Erlking was influencing him.
“Hurry, before the others come back,” he urged.
Still, I hesitated, and even though Ethan understood my caution, there was a flash of annoyance in his eyes.
“I’m trying to give you back your brooch,” he said.
I gasped and reached for my own pocket, where I’d been keeping the Erlking’s brooch carefully hidden. The pocket was empty.
“The Erlking told me about it and made me take it from you before I tried to kidnap you,” Ethan explained. “I didn’t want to give it back to you while Kimber and Keane were around, because I knew you must be keeping it secret for a reason.”
There was no hint of accusation in his voice, and his casual acceptance of one more lie on my part almost brought me to tears. I couldn’t think of what to say—my reasons for keeping the brooch secret didn’t seem as good today as they had before—so I did as he asked and reached into his pocket. I tried not to think too much about just where I was putting my hand, but I couldn’t help but be aware of it as I felt around for the brooch, which of course was buried at the very bottom of the pocket.
Maybe if we’d been back in Avalon, alone and out of danger, I’d have found the courage to take advantage of our positions. Ethan was my boyfriend, after all, and though we could never go for the home run, we could certainly give the bases a try. It would be a dangerous game, because it was possible Ethan would let his hormones get the best of his common sense. I might not be the most experienced sixteen-year-old in the world, but I knew that boys’ brains sometimes resided in their pants. The only reason I was willing to risk even kissing him was that I trusted my own brain to stop us from going too far.
I was blushing again, but then my fingers found the brooch and I carefully pulled it out of Ethan’s pocket. I held it in the palm of my hand. It was a beautiful piece of jewelry, the metal gleaming silver that neither tarnished nor scratched, the stylized stag looking ready to leap off my hand at any moment.
“You don’t think the Erlking can track us through this, do you?” I asked. I had been so focused on the marks that I hadn’t even thought of that before, but the brooch was a rendering of the Erlking’s symbol.
“I don’t think so,” Ethan said. “Why would he need to track you through the brooch when he’d already put the mark on your shoulder?”
“Still,” I said, the words coming reluctantly, “maybe it would be best if I left it behind.”
“Don’t. If the Queen’s forces catch up with us, you need to be able to use the brooch to escape.”
I narrowed my eyes at him. “I am not running away and leaving you guys to face the music.” Maybe I’d been right all along about keeping the brooch secret.
“You’d damn well better!” he responded with some heat. “You’re the person they hold responsible for the bomb. You’re the one they’ll execute. The rest of us might be seen as accessories, but the Queen won’t kill us. Especially not Kimber and me, considering we’re Unseelie and killing us might cause an incident.”
I knew enough about Fae politics to be doubtful. No, Titania might not execute Ethan and Kimber, but she’d be happy to hand them over to Mab, the Unseelie Queen, who might well execute them as a gesture of goodwill or something stupid like that.
But Ethan was right about one thing: if Titantia’s forces caught me, I was dead. And if Henry had anything to do with it, I’d be dead even before I was brought back to the palace for the Queen’s pleasure. Maybe no one would believe me if I started pointing fingers, but why would he risk it? How hard would it be for Henry to bribe or bully the search party into taking me dead or alive, with the emphasis on dead? I suspected not hard at all.